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A history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) online

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and mind a " dying fall," a sound " stealing and giving
odour " of quiet sadness. And if it does not do this, may
I come to think English lyric prose, and to believe in
accentual scansion ! There are, of course, some affectations
in it. I do not know that I am prepared to recommend
an unlimited coinage of adverbially compounded verbs (I
low-lie ; thou low-liest ; she low-lies) ; you may overdo
-eth forms ; and there is some slight libertinage of rhymes.
But these are examples of the infinitely little. The
point is that these purposely monotoned, but not
monotonous, three-foot iambics — mostly double-rhymed,
invariably single-moulded, scarcely varied with any other

1 Essays (and ed. Cambridge and London, i860), p. 5.


foot, their diction carefully selected to give the dirge-
cadence — an effect of tJwenos^ not loud or clamorous ;
meditative rather ; fully illustrated by pictorial touches —
are so absolutely suited to the end that I really do not
know whether anything of the kind in English comes
nearer to the masterpiece of that kind, the Dirge in

No one, however, would put " Claribel " — singularly
adequate as it is and fresh in its adequacy ; characteristic,
too, of the mixed visual and audible appeal of it^ author
and of the poetry he captained — among the greatest
poetic or prosodic triumphs of the two books, though it is
more than a fair example of that bold launch out into
the prosodic deep which is being so often spoken of.
But so is almost every other piece included in the first
volume. Contrast, for instance, the melancholy music,
so admirably mated to the words, of " Mariana," with the
sweep of the " Recollections of the Arabian Nights," its
inclusive and varied rhyme, and the extraordinarily skilful
way in which the occasional anapaests quicken, without
altering, the run of the stanza, Pindaric irregularity of
line - length is absolutely mastered in the " Ode to
Memory." And then we come to the " Hollyhock " song,
that was such a thorn to the author of TJwrndale.
The "Holly- One reads it, wondering how any human ear could be

hock " song. «< tortured " by it, but wondering still more how any
English ear could be in the least puzzled by its metre.
This, for all its novel effect, is — as is often the case with
such metres — as simple as possible in system to any one
who knows what English verse-structure is. It is simply
and solely CJiristabel metre slightly " vandyked " and
brought, for lyrical purposes, nearer to the anapaestic than
to the iambic basis, with the common licences of catalexis
and hypercatalexis (which are in almost every song of
Shakespeare) used by no means very lavishly. I give the
stanza ^ completely scanned below ; and I defy any one

' A spi|nt haunts | the year's | last hours
Dwelling | amid | these yel| lowing bowers:

To himself | he talks ;
For at e|ventide, lis|tening ear|nestly,


to find anything in it that differs in principle from
" Under the Greenwood Tree " or the dirge in MucJi Ado
About Not/ling.

I hardly know what not to notice; but there must " The Poet ■
be limits. " The Poet," with an admirable first stanza/ ^"'^ *^*: ,


IS prosodically mterestmg as the first in order of those quatrain.
manipulations of the decasyllabic alternate-rhymed quatrain
which were to give the matchless " Palace " and
" Dream " ; so that the prosodic aspects of the three may
be noticed together. It has been observed above that
the quatrain itself, as a consequence of its gravity, is
rather apt to be monotonous — even to be like the packing-
cases that contained Mr. Jingle's fourteen coats, " heavy,
heavy, d — d heavy." Simple shortening of the even
verses gives rather better outline, but not much less — in
fact even greater — monotony. In the three poems
Tennyson handles it in three different ways. " The
Poet" is couched in 10, 6, 10, 4, giving a succinct and
rather sententious metre, which suits admirably for the
'^/vwixai, the sharply-cut cumulative phrases, of that fine
piece. But, by this shortening, ten syllables, the equivalent
of a whole line, were lost ; and this gave too little room
for description, and especially for the series of pictures in
scene- or figure-painting which form so large a part of
the other two poems and communicate to them such
extraordinary charm. So in the " Palace " Tennyson
" eked " the stanza, extending the second line to eights
and the fifth to sixes." This, besides actually giving a

At his work | you may hear | him sob | and sigh
In the walks ;

Earth I ward he bow|eth the healN'y stalks
Of the nioul|dering flowers :

Hea|vily liangs | the broad | sunflower

Olver its grave | in the earth | so chilly ;
Heajvily hangs | the hol|lyhock,
Heajvily hangs | the ti|ger-lily.
1 The poet in a golden clime was born,
With golden stars al)ove ;
Dower'd with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn,
The love of love.
" I built my soul a lordly pleasure-house,
Wherein at ease for aye to dwell.

and ' ' Dream


little more room, admits more varied " fingering," together
with a sort of ogee effect of outline, which is wonderfully
attractive — a taper, but with a swell in it. In the
"Dream" — more narrative and with larger aims — he
wanted more space still, and a form that would link
itself better. He gets this by keeping tJiree decasyllabics
with a final six.^ This is an exceedingly cunning as
well as beautiful device, for, on the one hand, the large
majority of decasyllabics, batched in threes, assists the
narrative effect, which is always hard to achieve with
stanzas of very irregular outline ; and, on the other, the
short final line serves at once as finial to the individual
stanza, and hinge to join it to the next.
The "Palace" The adaptation of these three forms to their matter is
exemplary. The fine, if very slightly rhetorical descrip-
tion of " The Poet " builds itself up with sentence after
sentence, the apples of gold being duly set in the picture
of silver by the stanza. This quality is not lost in the
" Palace of Art " extension : it comes out admirably in the
verses describing the soul's period of despair. But its
aptitudes for description, in the enlarged content and in
the slightly less zigzagged and more flowing outline, are
the points to notice. Only the very best and most con-
centrated pictures of Spenser, and the great portrait of
Madeline praying in the Eve of St. Agnes, equal these
frescoes of the " Palace " in colour, draughtsmanship, and
atmosphere ; while I know nothing in poetry, English or
foreign, ancient or modern, that surpasses them, except
that which surpasses everything — Dante's picture of the
gate of Purgatory with the steps in mirrored marble, and
riven fire-grimed blue, and flaming porphyry, and the
sworded angel in the ashen cloak sitting with his feet on
the crimson stone. Some of the stanzas of the " Palace "

I said, "O Soul, make merry and carouse,
Dear soul, for all is well."

I read, before my eyelids dropt their shade,

T/ie Legend of Good Women, long ago
Sung by the morning star of song, who made
His music heard below.


are not so very far below even this apex poeseos et picturae)
While in the " Dream " the extension not merely carries
us with unmatched congruity through the various episodes
of the narrative, not only shows itself equal to its pre-
decessor in descriptive quality, but rises to the admirable
Bidvoca of the last two stanzas, whose clear depths are
so much deeper than the turbid experiments in tronipe-
Voeil of certain " philosophical " poets."'

Fain would I dwell on other things — the gem-wrought
fancy pieces on girls' names which so have irritated and
do irritate Philistia ; the rather more imitative but
admirably effectual " Sisters " (romance-sixes with short
lines lengthened); the magnificently monotonous intensity
of " Fatima " ; the triple triumph of management of line
and rhyme and refrain in " Oriana " ; the slightly unequal,
but in parts exquisite, carolling of the " Sea Fairies " and
the "Merman " ; the gorgeous dirge-music of the " Deserted
House " and the " Dirge " itself All of these, let it be
repeated, were practically what they are from the first in
numbers ; all of them indicated the possession of new
colour- and tone-scheme on the part of the poet ; all of
them showed, to any one who could see and hear, that he
had attained, if not to the unerring and inevitable, yet to
the frequent and then consummate command of this
scheme. The fools and the children might boggle over
the half-done work of phrase, and wait for the revision in
1842— -to be in the majority of cases unconverted still.
They could see only what they brought the power of

" For instance, both in sound- ^nd sight-magic :

One seemed all dark and red — a tract of sand,

And some one pacing there alone,
Who paced for ever in a glimmering land,
Lit with a low large moon.
(This, by the way, was one of the later improvements.)

- As when a soul laments, which hath been blest,
Desiring what is mingled with past years.
In yearnings that can never be exprest
By sighs or groans or tears ;

Because all words, though cull'd with choicest art.

Failing to give the bitter of the sweet,
Wither beneath the palate, and the heart

Faints, faded by its heat.

Swan. '


seeing. Even John Stuart Mill in that contemporary
Essay/ which is the best thing he ever did in pure
literature, thought " his powers of versification not yet of
the highest order," his " metres taken at random [!]," and
his adaptation of verse to the character of his subject not
masterly. Perhaps the teaching of James the Abomin-
able came in here ; more probably it was simple time-
blindness — which time alone can remove. But we have
no excuse of the kind ; and for my part, though I freely
confess the youthfulness, and the imperfection in many
ways, of the volumes of 1830 and 1832, I want nothing
more to enable me to show, not from the prosodic side
only, but from the prosodic side here, that the " blest
unfabled incense tree " of English poetry then saw a fresh
Phoenix-birth of an English " poet of the century."
The "Dying The single instance of the "Dying Swan" would

suffice as a diploma-piece from the prosodic point of view.
We have seen various forms of " suiting sound to sense,"
some of them quite rudimentary, some a little less so ;
but in all, of course, from the simplest to the most com-
plex, the means adopted must affect prosody, must indeed
be provided by it. Never before had — I really do not
know whether, even in Mr. Swinburne, ever since has — the
provision reached such complexity with such success.
The poet takes the old equivalenced octosyllable of the
thirteenth century and of Christabel, moulding it into an
irregular stanza with more or fewer recurrences of rhyme
as he pleases.' But in the first of these stanzas he avails
himself very little of anapaestic substitution. There are
only two anapaests ^ in ten lines. In the second — of the
same length, but very slightly varied in combination, —
there are a few more, some eight or nine, I should think,
out of the forty or so feet. Now in these stanzas we have
merely had the fact of the swan's lament noted ; they
have otherwise been wholly taken up with the scene. In

1 Early Essays of J. S. M. (London, 1897), p. 267.
- The plain was grassy, wild and bare,

Wide, wild, and open to the air, etc.
■^ With ail /«|ner voice [ the riv|er ran,

Adown I it ?io^\ted a ^|ing swan.


the third we come to the death-song itself, and the metre
lengthens, unrolls, is transformed by more and more
infusion of the trisyllabic foot, till the actual equivalent of
the " eddying song," the " awful jubilant voice," the " music
strange and manifold," is attained. Such command of
sound, joined to such power of painting, might, one would
think, have sent good wits and good lovers raving. Yet
Mill says nothing about it in the dawn, and George
Brimley, when noon was drawing on, thinks it " uninter-
esting " because there is no apron-string or medicine-bottle
about it as in the " Gardener's Daughter " and the " May ^ .
Queen." Now the " Gardener's Daughter" and the " May
Queen " would be nearly as effective in prose, and might
easily be put into it. I defy Sir Thomas Browne himself
to give us the soul-substance of the " Dying Swan " while
stripping it of its essential and inseparable body of poetry.

But there are still three pieces on which I must enlarge "The Lady of
a little ; for the enlargement is not a mere piece of Shaiott.
sensual indulgence, but a logical and almost necessary
buttress and support to the general view of the develop-
ment of prosody which is, or should be, given in this
treatise. They are "The Ladyof Shalott," "CEnone," and the
" Lotos-Eaters" — all, it is hardly necessary to say, in the
second volume. As has been said, " The Lady of Shalott "
gained immensely by revision in some ways ; but these
ways were scarcely at all prosodic. Its verse, from the
first, had that quality which " sweeps all before it," as
William Morris said admirably of Tennyson. The run
and flow, indefinitely rippled and varied in different
stanzas, but continuous and prevailing, of this con-
catenation ^ is really an altitudo. The river that springs

1 On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky ;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-towered Camelot ;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.
The "acephalous " variation, with trochaic effect, of " Gazing, etc." is used
freely, and double rhyme fairly often.

VOL. Ill O


' CEnone. '

' ' The Lotos-
Eaters. "

in the first line floats us down to the end with its own
quiet restlessness — a mirror in general smoothness,
dinted with eddying swirls of rhythm.

You could not have a greater sign of prosodic mastery
than that the author of this should also be the contriver
of the blank verse of " CEnone." The advance here on the
undecided and imitative medium of " Timbuctoo " and the
" Lover's Tale " is only paralleled perhaps (and there not
in exactly the same metre) by the difference between
Dryden's " Heroic Stanzas " and the group of Restoration
poems. In fact it is questionable whether the great
Tennysonian blank — a descendant and representative,
but in no way a copy, at once of the Shakespearian and
the Miltonic — is ever shown to much better advantage,
though it may receive a slight further polishing in "Ulysses"
and the " Morte " and the Princess and the best passages of
the Idylls before their latest stage. The famous overture,
as we have it now, is a clean proof-sheet of the new
verse-paragraph, with its own colour, its own outline, its
own resonance and symphony ; and the speech of Pallas,
the introduction of Aphrodite, and the splendid ringing
agony of the close come, battalion after battalion, to
complete the victory of the poet.

Here, however, the poem did gain greatly by revision,
prosodically as otherwise, though the perfect form was
reached as early as i 842 ; and we may return to it in a
short connected study of Tennyson's blank verse. In the
" Lotos-Eaters," on the other hand, except in trifles, the
revisional improvement — a very great one — was confined
to the latter part, and the suggestion of the present
glorious close was there originally, though rather frittered
away and spoilt by some of Tennyson's early ultra-Keatsian
mawkishness. Even then substantially, and much more
as it stands to-day, the thing is a wonder of combined
symphonic arrangement. The great Spenserians of the
overture are not more beautiful than the best of Adonais
or of the Eve of St. Agnes — nothing could be that — but
they are more Spenserian : and the dreamy languor comes
back for the first time, though the dream is of nineteenth-,


not of sixteenth-century colour. Nothing could so well lead
up to, and nothing could so well set off, the " Choric Song "
that follows. Here Tennyson evidently had the same
general motive of rising swell which he had hit upon in the
" Dying Swan " ; but he carries it out on a far greater
scale, and with the interludes and isolations allowed by
that scale instead of by a single progressive development.
You begin with a sort of modification — a dream-change
like that in dreams themselves — of actual Spenserian,
but the metrist does not carry it out and lapses (by
accident or design) first into Phineas Fletcher abbreviation
with a progressively lengthened coda of mono-rhymes,
6, 8, 10, 12. The subsequent strophes waver kaleido-
scopically, but always harmoniously, seeking, as it were,
a " waist " or narrowest part at " Hateful is the dark
blue sea," a stanza of three eights and a six only, and then
swelling and rising, rising and swelling, till the thing
lengthens itself into the swinging fourteeners of the final
coda. Once more : there ought to have been no mistake
whatever about this piece ; and in a decade or two of
years (it ought not to have taken a Republican decade of
days) we find even Smith, and much more Brimley, the
former satisfied, the latter enthusiastic.

The interest of the great volumes of 1 842, which
definitely estated Tennyson, lies of course largely, if not
principally, in the marvellous transformation ^ of the
earlier poems ; but it adds greatly to our prosodic know-
ledge of the poet. And this extension of knowledge,
though not confined to, is largely concentrated upon, one
great form already referred to as perhaps the chief
prosodic instance of Tennyson's unmatched power of
self-discipline and of raising himself on stepping-stones of
his earlier work to higher things. Not " confined " ; for
the gracefully tripping " commons " of " The Talking Oak "
— a measure not easy in such work to keep from a

^ I cannot help thinking, as I survey the alterations, say, of " The Palace
of Art " and " CEnone," of the attempts recently made to treat the author of
Piers Plowman as the demon of the ninth bolgia treated Ali and Mahomet
and Bertrand de Born, and to sliver him up into gobbets. At least two
people in each case must have written these two poems, surely !


merely trivial prettiness — should not miss notice, and
the magnificent sweeping trochaic fifteeners of " Locksley
Hall " insist on it. It has been said often that the
trochee is not an easy foot to manage in English, but
that, when it is managed, it produces a literally extra-
ordinary effect. And this is well seen here, A language
must be pretty well settled in its prosodic inheritance,
and that inheritance must be of the noblest, when it can
give such a cadence as

And the hollow Ocean ridges roaring into cataracts,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.

The singular depreciation which has always rested,
save with a very few of the elect, on " The Two Voices "
is nowhere stranger than in its failure to recognise the
perfect adaptation of these pensive dropping triplets to
the thought The more general appeal of " St. Agnes'
Eve " has perhaps made more people see the beauty of
its verse, which contrasts curiously with " The Talking
Oak " to show the varying powers of the common measure.
In the same way " Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere "
— which is " Lady of Shalott " metre cunningly treated
with extension of the tail-rhyme lines and substitution
of a cheerful for an oppressive atmosphere of cadence —
deserves careful study. The famous smaller varied lyrics,
" Come not when I am dead," " Break ! break ! " and
" The Poet arose," show perfectly that " past mastery " of
metre, the apprenticeship, and more than apprenticeship
to which Coleridge and Mill had so strangely missed.
But the chief prosodic subject in this collection, apart
from the group of blanks to be noticed presently, is " The
Vision of Sin."
"The Vision This poem- — which I am sometimes inclined to rank

of Sin." ^g ^j^g poetically greatest thing that Tennyson ever did —

ranks prosodically in a class with the " Lotos-Eaters,"
being a concerted piece of varying but not miscellaneous
metres instead of a single movement. It begins with
what may be regarded as either a couplet paragraph


ending in a Drydenian triplet with Alexandrine, or a
treizain constituted deliberately in this fashion.^ The
second movement," which has been strangely taken for a
modern instance of acephalous Chaucerian lines, loses all
beauty if it be so regarded, and spoils the concert com-
pletely. It is a shift to trochaic base, where, in accord-
ance with the subject — the slowly welling fountain and
rising song — the trochaic lines, now full, now catalectic,
begin in couplet, change to a sort of terza, strike strongly
back to iambics with line - extension, return, in but
apparently disorderly fashion (to suit subject again), to
the trochaic base, and " flutter headlong " at the end, in
mingled iamb and trochee, to ground. A batch of regular
decasyllabics, rhymed now almost Lycidas fashion, now
in quatrain with alternate rhyme, and in tercet, but never
in couplet, furnishes Strophe Three. But Four is entirely
constituted of trochaic sevens in quatrain, tinged with
a sarcastic force which Tennyson nowhere else attains,
and to which the form gives admirable expression.^ And
a fine coda of couplets gives the form of Five. There are
few more prosodically perfect examples in English of
what Johnson calls " the greater ode."

1 I had a vision when the night was late :
A youth came riding toward a palace-gate.
He rode a horse with wings, that would have flown
But that his heavy rider kept him down.
And from the palace came a child of sin,
And took him by the curls, and led him in,
Where sat a company with heated eyes,
Expecting when a fountain should arise :
A sleepy light upon their brows and lips —
As when the sun, a crescent of eclipse,
Dreams over lake and lawn, and isles and capes —
Suffused them, sitting, lying, languid shapes,
By heaps of gourds, and skins of wine, and piles of grapes.
Observe how fine this couplet is, and how personal. We have seen how
Keats studied Dryden : this is as if Dryden had studied Keats.
2 Then methought I heard a mellow sound,
Gathering up from all the lower ground, etc.

2 The refrain-stanza shows it well :

Fill the can, and fill the cup :

All the windy ways of men
Are but dust that rises up.

And is lightly laid again.


But these elaborately concerted schemes are the " red
ink" of prosody — they are not for constant or even
frequent use. It is in the perfection of the blank verse
that we see, if not the choicest, the most solid and all-
powerful achievement of these 1842 volumes. For a
good deal of the substance of the poems which exemplify
and illustrate it, I confess I care little. The " English
Idyl," which had been started, long before, by Southey, is
one of those contrivances for making poetry do the work
of prose for which I have small affection. There are
beautiful things, of course, in " The Gardener's Daughter,"
especially the Turneresque picture of Ely and the portrait
of the heroine — things which show what a medium was
now ready to convey anything worth conveying. I can
see nothing of the kind in " Dora," which is another
piece of Tennysonian " wood, hay, stubble," diversifying
the silver and the gold and the gems ; yet the bay and
the pie in " Audley Court " are not unworthy of their
verse, and there may be a line or two in " The Lake "
and " Walking to the Mail." But the " Morte d' Arthur "
and " St. Simeon Stylites " and " Ulysses " and " Love
and Duty" —

God bless us all ! they're quite another thing !

"St. Simeon The " Saint " is generally put least of the group, because

styhtes." people do not care for pillar-saints ; but if there had

been any such verses in " Dora " as there are by scores
here — as indeed almost the whole piece consists of — I
should take " Dora " to my heart of hearts, for all its
cheap sentiment and Wordsworthian " silly sooth." It
may be rational or irrational to balance yourself on

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